Somehow, June is here and so is the halfway mark of 2017. It feels both too soon and too slow, like summer should have come earlier but all the things that come with it—like blistering temperatures and overlooked records—shouldn’t have.
Because some things fall by the wayside, we’re here to help remind you about one of the best parts of the year: Massachusetts’ remarkable music releases. Our scene is bursting with talent, whether “local” holds a positive or negative connotation in your mind. There are bands that spread by word of mouth to staggeringly cult-level status, like Pile or or Elder, and talented artists too modest to push their press, like Sidney Gish and BABY! There’s an overflowing community rich with hooks and talent, and, honestly, it can feel overwhelming at times. We’re here to make navigating it all a bit easier.
If your favorite release isn’t on here, know that trimming down the list was difficult. It’s no exaggeration to say Boston’s churning out incredible music on a weekly basis. Think of all the memorable releases that would’ve been on here otherwise. Passion Pit released Tremendous Sea of Love for free after riding a newly revived wave of electropop joy. Dump Him carried the torch of Kathleen Hanna’s no-fucks-given punk on Venus In Gemini, an LP about everything from being anxious to being queer, with Aye Nako’s Jade Payne behind the board. We got a punchy but sorrowful farewell EP from Daephne. Ginger Sunburn introduced themselves as an indie rock romp for the garage with the full-length Sleepwalk. Creaturos continued their parade through garage psych with their long-awaited self-titled LP. Black El dropped summer-ready singles like “Another Dose” but not technically an album. And of course, there was Dispatch, who did what they do best and all the white guys still rocking appropriated dreads loved it.
At the end of this year, we’ll have a long list of albums that summed up our area best. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with 30 records on your plate at the end of December, do yourself a favor and study up now. Here are 15 of the best records to come out this year from Boston- or Massachusetts-based artists. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself bumping their songs more often than the new Lorde or Kendrick. Just sayin’.
A PLACE I’LL ALWAYS GO
Grieving is hard. It’s even harder when death visits twice in a row. Ellen Kempner, the frontwoman of indie rock trio Palehound, lost a close friend and then her grandmother when she was 22 years old. Though much of the band’s sophomore record rides of catchy melodies and gruff guitar, it’s Kempner’s struggle to deal with the weird guilt of moving on with life post-loss that sticks with you long after the record finishes its runtime. Be it the dissonant hums of “Carnations” or the painful details in “If You Met Her,” Kempner penned a follow-up LP to one of our 2015 favorites, Dry Food, that feels like both a step forward and a deeper nuzzling into the sounds that make her one of Boston’s standout musicians.
REFLECTIONS OF A FLOATING WORLD
It’s been two years since Elder last won us over with their transcendent brand of stoner doom. On Reflections of a Floating World, they manage to leave us flat on our backs once again, but this time it feels strangely peaceful, like a country-tinged midlife catharsis led by flourishes of post-rock. Toss riff-loving ’80s prog in a blender with …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, a couple steel pedals, and your favorite mid-aughts quintessential “alternative” band, all shaken and stirred by a couple of metalheads. It’s a curious mix, but Elder have both the intensity and stamina to pull it off, turning 11-minute tracks into blissful escapes you’ll wish were even longer.
Cambridge band Lenderson fill their sound with shimmering guitar and steady percussion, but when they reveal themselves to be a duo, suddenly it triples in sound. On their debut self-titled EP, the two whittle through breezy indie rock that sounds like it comes from veteran musicians. Do some digging and it turns out there’s a reason. Guitarist-bassist-vocalist Jesse Brotter and drummer-keyboardist Jonathan Gilad are half of jazz psych poppers Crumb. So when they’re swimming gracefully through the lyricless grooves of “Blastoff/Exploder” or the sunny doubletime shift in “Cutglove,” know it comes with the experience of two guys who bounced through the jazz, funk, and hip-hop circuits of Tufts’ underground music scene for several years now.
Carefree summer tunes are hard to come by, if only because Boston devotes itself to pummeling rock and bass-heavy rap like it was born to do so. Thankfully, beach rock four-piece BABY! steps in to save the day, though it’s possible that’s in part due to some ties to Orlando, Florida. Mixed and mastered by Palehound’s Jesse Weiss, Pick Me sees frontwoman Kaley Honeybun flexing her songwriting skills with the enthusiasm, cadence, and harmonies of Vagabon or early-era Best Coast. “down to the wire” sees her strumming through vocal slides. “hard time” is an unofficial reprise of Paramore’s similarly-titled hit. No matter which song you put on, BABY! pushes a positive glow out of your speakers and into the palm of your hands.
MASS AVE & LENOX
EAST COAST RAP
Of all the rap releases so far in 2017, none sits with you quite like Avenue’s Mass Ave & Lenox. The South End rapper pays tribute to the fixtures of his city—not necessarily traditional Boston figures—through slick strings of words that prioritize respect above all else. It’s a 15-track release where a shout-out to defunct sneaker mecca Harry the Greek’s or a Roxbury sidestreet sounds just as familiar as a much-needed reminder that Boston’s hip-hop scene is bursting at its seams. Put on “Aint Shit Funny” on the way to a packie. Call the radio request line and tell them to blast “Nobody.” It’s the soundtrack Boston’s been craving. Avenue tells his story with deft lyricism above timeless beats, propelling verbatim about this history of Boston, a tale only he could tell.
Look, there’s enough ’90s revival within the music industry as it is, especially in the alt-rock category. So when a band holds a candle to that time, they better light a long-lasting flame and make sure theirs burns brighter than those before it. Not only does Boston trio Lilith do so, but they one-up themselves by avoiding feel-good cliches. Five-song EP Apology Plant is at once energizing and mesmerizing, holding interest despite putting you in a daze where you want to lay on a bed, stare at the ceiling, and let the guitar solo in “Loaded” walk all over you. With patient rhythm work and raspy vocal harmonies like Now, Now, the three tread through the record with a comforting familiarity, cementing the sound as their own while never once hiding their influences—a winning combination that puts them at the forefront of the revival.
MIDNIGHT WEREWOLF RECORDS
There’s not a lot of room for Americana in Boston. Those who pursue it do so with an invisible cowboy hat on their head, like they would yearn for the southern sunset no matter what heat they’d get from New England sports fans. Milk saddle up on Horsetown Threshold, a record that’s not full-frontal country, but places just the right number of desert pangs and dusty guitar solos at its center to relocate listeners to Tennessee for an hour. Still, don’t let that mislead you. Horsetown Threshold climbs every valley and mountain in sight. There’s slow-burning blues in the second half of “Horsetown,” stoner metal-style weight on “Fishin’,” and a classic rock chase scene in “Vietnam.” It’s the way locals would want Americana to sound: raspy, twisted, and with a devilish grin.
For the love of Papi, stop listening to The Weeknd already. There’s better R&B out there—and you don’t have to look very far for it. Put on Che Ecru, the backyard crooner who’s been making late-night rounds with Buries, his debut tape. Over the course of 14 tracks, Che Ecru makes a name for himself, laying the foundation with silky groove “Lonely” before swapping over to “2AM,” a bass-thudding jam primed for remixes, and minimalist dance beats on “Luckily.” With over 2 million plays and counting on Soundcloud, his tape is spreading through word of mouth, a discussion we’re proud to be a part of—and honestly, you should be talking, too.
ED BUYS HOUSES
How can we summarize the understated genius of Sidney Gish in a way that we haven’t already? For starters, she’s a freshly-minted 20-year-old who’s got the talent of a young Regina Spektor with the peppiness of Vampire Weekend and DIY heart of Frankie Cosmos. Secondly, she recorded all of it through an iPhone earbud and a USB microphone, neither of which you could guess based on her immaculate tone and production. Third, she released Ed Buys Houses mere hours before the end of 2016, but it’s fair game to include it in the world of 2017 music because you won’t get sick of it over the course of an entire year. Really, it’s that good. Sidney Gish is all that—sliced bread, a bag of chips, various grocery items used to measure impressiveness—and then some. No, we don’t know how she does it either.
A HAIRSHIRT OF PURPOSE
EXPLODING IN SOUND RECORDS
Boston’s long-beloved rock band Pile turns 10 this year, and their unofficial celebration included the release of a highly-awaited new LP. A Hairshirt of Purpose is the band’s most complete work to date, one that manages to both out-do their early work while simultaneously paying homage to it. The stripped down country blues of Jerk Routine and anthemic guitar rock of Dripping take on new shape with their most thematically solid, well-transitioned, intentionally ordered album. The band tries its hand with orchestral strings. There’s clunky piano interludes. In that, it’s an album of new steps (“Dogs”) sandwiched by comforting shredders (“Fingers”). Pile not only earned the title of your favorite band’s favorite band, but pushes itself forward, both in regards to iconic musical feats and in regards to the unrelenting acrobatics of frontman Rick Maguire’s modesty.
Those who love Fruit Bats and Portugal. The Man should turn towards newcomers The Solars. Self-described as a chamber folk rock band, The Solars is a quaint mixture of spirited instrumentals, from flute on “Help Me to My Hometown” to the warm organ on “Potter’s Field / Dockery.” Miles Hewitt and Quetzel Herzig create a layered world of cascading percussion and filtered vocals amid jaunty keys. If you aren’t listening close enough, it’s easy to mistake them for a triple-A radio staple. Who knows. Give them some time, and Retitled Remastered could be the first of several signs that The Solars would, and then did, make it big.
The release of Bat House’s debut LP has been a very, very, very long time coming—or at least it feels that way. The psych rock four-piece began becoming a staple at house shows and lower-tier venue gigs in early 2016, but took their time recording a full-length as physical evidence of such. The way all four saw it, there’s no need to rush an album if you want to make it sound the best it could be. And Bat House, their debut album, is exactly that. They skip their way through finger-tapping math rock on “Woods,” riled-up drumfills on “Chemical X,” and fuzzed-filled mania on “Patterns.” No matter how familiar you are with psych rock, Bat House’s LP is a perfect introduction or a welcome extension of the genre with undeniable character from start to finish.
A BEEEF CD
There’s something about the stench of Allston in the summertime that’s bizarrely welcome year after year. Without any insult implied, Beeef is the soundtrack to those few blissful months. The Allston quartet released their debut full-length, the cheekily titled A Beeef CD, in February, and we swear it melted some of the snow just with its jangly pop chords. Think of it as a mix of the charm of Mac DeMarco, the blissful melodies of Real Estate, the antics of Wavves, and the perfectly understated note progressions of Deerhunter. A Beeef CD is another indie rock album by a bunch of white dudes, yes, but it speaks to a time and place in a way that far exceeds generic sound. If meat is murder, then adding another vowel to it is life, and Beeef are dishing it out nonstop. There’s not enough reasons to feel good and they’re single-handedly offering a record of cheery tunes with “carne diem” plastered across each one.
AMERICAN LAUNDROMAT RECORDS
There’s large-scale Boston icons like Aerosmith and Pixies, and then there’s the smaller giants of that same era, like Buffalo Tom and Juliana Hatfield. Over the course of numerous years and a handful of bands (The Lemonheads, Blake Babies, Minor Alps, and so on), Hatfield has become a force in the music scene, though she never lets her ego grow to the size it very well could be. On her newest solo record, Pussycat, she put anger in the forefront. Biting tales about tails she’d like to bite narrate a world in which guys are the enemy. Who can blame her? In the aftermath of Trump, a revolting breed of men left their caves with a leader that wouldn’t condemn them for doing so, and much of Hatfield’s record hollers about Trump (“Short-Fingered Man”) and his army (“When You’re a Star”). That doesn’t prevent the record from losing its gleam, allowing her angry side to somehow remain buoyant despite a flood of tar from the governmental skies above.
TROUBLE IN MIND RECORDS
Doug Tuttle is the man who never sleeps, at least when it comes to New England and the red-eyed world of psych. He’s released a record nearly every year since departing MMOSS to go solo. On Peace Potato, he steps it up a notch. Handfuls of vintage ’60s tunes cozy up alongside honey-dipped horns, George Harrison-style solos, and easygoing melodies. Tuttle played every instrument himself on the record, perhaps unsurprising given his pension for exploring musical realms, which lends itself towards a soft tone throughout. Whether you’re on a Kinks binge or you need music to mellow out to, the aptly titled Peace Potato will do the trick immediately.